CFR photographd by Chad Michael Ward, 2017
For many years now, I have been wistfully longing to be back in school, in a structured, encompassing learning environment akin to my time studying medical massage. From culinary to EMT to dance to pottery to welding, I’ve periodically looked into various available programs, but until recently hadn’t done the prep work to be able to apply for college.
In garnering certified copies of important things, I’ve kicked up a lot of feelings and memories of my evolving identity changes, and the deconstruction of indoctrination they’ve represented along the way. But that’s another story for another essay (maybe), along with many important sociocultural intersections I won’t be touching on in this piece.
Turns out, as of Sept 1, I will be capable of amending my birth certificate to reflect my non-binary gender. Though there are very real and potentially dire consequences for me if I choose to do this that must be reconciled before I make it official anywhere, I’ve been surprised at how emotional stumbling upon this information was for me.
Something about the authoritative nature, a choice in owning myself that would impact how important gatekeepers will treat me, snapped my cognitive dissonance like a twig, and made what I’ve seen as a cautious, largely externalized gender exploration unequivocally real for me.
Being openly nonbinary has previously meant that I recognized the importance of dismantling my association and identification with binary thinking, in terms of gender specifically, in order to be my most authentic self. But it’s also an effort to do my best work in the world. A part of my outness about it has been in the service of advocacy, of signal boosting, of iconoclasm, and that’s the lens I’ve been viewing myself through.
I’ve considered myself genderqueer light, genderqueer slightly-more-than-curious, genderqueer in the ways that genderqueers can be genderqueer but remain outside all that genderqueerness seems to encompass. I’ve remained distant, showing up mainly as an ally, only a vaguely authoritative mouthpiece of my own sortaqueer experience. If ever I’ve sought out foundational support as a nonbinary person for myself, it was so fleeting I don’t remember it.
That all means I don’t actually care about that part of myself. Right?
I mean, my social media profiles say ‘they’ — but how often do I ever actually correct someone and ask them to refer to me in neutral terms? How often do I stand up for myself when long-time friends I’m already out to insist on referring to me as a woman, she, etc., or literally tell me I’m not actually non-binary straight to my face?
That means I don’t actually care about that part of myself. Right?
My tinder profile isn’t all about how I’m queer. I don’t like crowds, cops, or shitting on everything that the trans rights movement was established to resist, so I can’t get behind pride. I’m not in queer groups, I don’t go to queer meetings, and when I’ve done so, I’ve felt woefully out of place.
That all means I don’t actually care about that part of myself. Right?
My heart fucking soars when someone bothers to address me correctly. It warms me like few things in my life ever have, and in an honest loving way that feels uncharacteristically nurturing and wholesome. But my feeling special like that is just taking away from the real queers, the people who are really suffering, the people who don’t pass, the people who actually deserve that effort from their friends.
That all means I don’t actually care about that part of myself, a not-actual but sorta kinda queer who’s already taking up too much space. Right?
Even after coming to terms with the binary, wearing shirts that say ‘they’, pummeling my social media followers with related advocacy, writing songs to help me let go of old ideas that don’t serve me anymore; I’d never considered myself ‘trans’, or worthy of integrating my non-binary personhood into things like seeking out a doctor that I didn’t have to claim I was female to.
I’d never considered that physical changes might be a part of embodying my gender, that there might be medical help for a personal transformation that I’d thus far assumed to be psychological and political.
I’d never considered that part of my life-long soul deep embarrassment regarding my music, and the difficulty I’ve had in genuinely harnessing my ‘whiny girl voice’, could have been because I have been aware on some level that the voice that physically comes out of me isn’t actually mine.
I’d never considered, as admittedly problematic as it is to associate being ‘trans’ with wanting hormones or to live in a fundamentally changed vessel, that I as a non-binary person could want those things, that I could have those things, that I could officially be who I’ve only ever been capable of seeing myself as in quick flashes of experiences so intense they were straddling fantasy.
All of that has changed since the day I read that I could tell the government that I wasn’t born a god damn girl without having to tell them I’m a god damn boy.
I look back and note that the only times I can recall genuinely exploring my natural gender were during sex, and when I painted problematic things like Trans Rex, which turned me on and scared me and caused me to feel like such an appropriating piece of privileged cis shit that I asked virtually every trans person I knew if it was ok to make it or circulate it or sell it (and they all had differing opinions about it).
I’ve also thought a lot about our collective fetishization of the human body, and especially the genitals. How all that put a dampener on my actualization, and the necessary dissolution of this fakeass harm perpetuating binary, by keeping my thoughts and desires to have or experience different sex characteristics within the realms of fantasy and kink and hysterical overreactions. By keeping my self-understanding of my own gender a shallow performance for the sake of a movement I didn’t even feel I honestly belonged to.
All while a puritanical, sex-shamed society sexualizes LITERALLY FUCKING EVERYTHING right down to the tits that feed our kids.
All that shit sure does help to create a perfect storm to maintain the binary status quo; the same one that has had me resisting seeing myself as part of the trans community because I don’t seek to go from one extreme to the other. The same one that’s had me resisting the concept that being both a cock and a pussy was in a viable identity, not just some overdramatized fucking act I couldn’t shake.
As someone who tried as hard as I could have possibly tried to deaden and abandon the person I was born being told I was, the person my mother named, the person my father left, I was a 36 year old recovering transphobe when I finally gave myself the room to question how I was labeled as an infant; a space I gave myself after so many years of rude social justice awakenings and chasing my tail to find my lane.
By that time, I’d already lived a lifetime as a straight woman. I honestly thought choosing ‘he’ pronouns before Facebook offered anything but two sets was just about the sly fuck-you to their data mining policies. I convinced myself Trans Rex wasn’t a self portrait. I told myself that changing my name to Rex later that year was just a coincidence. I’d even projected my gender dysphoria onto my partner at the time. Even once I finally started almost listening, I flat out lied to myself for years.
The tomboy kid. The vulnerable wounded internet sad girl. The hysterectomy compulsion since I began menstruating. The dreams of the detaching vulva, of the ‘flesh dowel’ hidden behind my cervix. The debilitating responses to female hormones. The decades of constant reproductive distress; the pain, the cysts, the emergency ultrasounds. The god. damn. fucking. crushing. depression. The suicidal ideation that never quite leaves me. The obsessive compulsion to scrape and chisel and beat my psyche into an acceptable form, to mold who I am into something I can actually understand and know and trust in, that slowed as I approached gender liberation. The chin hairs I started keeping around that same time. The adolescent hatred of penetration. The sexual dissociation, nearly exclusively envisioning myself as my male lovers. The pedestalization of cock. Literally feeling like a fucking alien no matter how much therapy or hugs or nice things were said to me as a girl, a she, a ‘beautiful strong woman’, the embodiment of the ‘divine’ fucking ‘feminine’. The decades it took to accept my skinny boyish body.
All with new layers now. All with deeper meaning.
When began referring to myself as non-binary in 2016, it was packaged in this idea that to honestly take it seriously, to authentically explore the implications and the depth of which being this may have impacted and may still transform me, I should have been sure all along of what I was.
I should have somehow known it, and been confident in it, when nothing about the culture I’d been a part of, the way I was raised, or the ways in which I had been rewarded by society, encouraged me to know anything other than what was put on my birth certificate.
It’s ridiculous. We’ve all been told that we’re cis. None of us who eventually challenge that come out the gate knowing who the hell we are.
I am still figuring out how to be anything but the white cis savior woman waiting for some white cis savior man to come rescue me from white cis peril by waking some sleeping sexpot wife within me via sexual assault in my sleep.
I am still figuring out how to be a feminist while shedding my identification with that lifetime of being systemically oppressed as a binary woman, that lifetime of sex as a necessary weapon, that lifetime of incapability of seeing that people like me even exist.
I am still figuring out how to exist.